How Okinawans Emigrated to Taiwan

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~1800:

Okinawans usually did not go to colonial Taiwan through an intermediary. Instead, they relied on their network of family or friends. It was not unusual for Okinawan youths without work experience to arrive in Taiwan not knowing what they were going to do. Moreover, the immigrants frequently changed workplaces. It would indeed be difficult to track each immigrant’s career in Taiwan because it was common to see an unskilled immigrant start out as a shop boy or factory laborer and eventually secure work as a government employee or a policeman after living in Taiwan for several years. Employers might deplore the tendency to change jobs frequently, but this shows the Okinawan immigrants’ agency and willingness to advance socially in the colony.

Enrolling in evening school was a common means of achieving social mobility for young Okinawan male migrants who could not afford a secondary education at home.

Nevertheless, for Okinawan migrants in Taiwan, becoming an apprentice was the most common method of acquiring a professional skill and advancing their careers. Japan’s decchi [丁稚] system, which developed in the shogunal period, was similar to the Western apprenticeship and played an important role in the Japanese commercial world until the nineteenth century. It originally assumed a feudalistic relationship between a master and an apprentice, rather than a contractual relationship. The apprentice owed his master long-term loyalty because his master treated him like a family member. This custom persisted well into the early twentieth century. Although it became less feudalistic in the twentieth century, and an apprentice was less likely to serve a master for a long time, the practice still maintained an element of folkloric education.

Through apprenticeships, Okinawan youth migrants who could not afford higher education at home acquired the knowledge and skills they needed to raise their social positions.

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Filed under democracy, economics, education, Japan, labor, migration, nationalism, Taiwan

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